Friday 29 May 2009


We have four sorts of cultivated mint in the garden. A spearmint that is delicious in tea but is the weakest grower, an apple mint, a dark peppermint that I think was sold to me years ago as "eau de cologne" flavoured and a tremendously vigorous peppermint that can overwhelm comfrey and other mints, it's that strong a grower.

We actually nicked a morsel of this from another allotment years ago. They must have been thrilled at the loss because once you have it, it's almost impossible to control. The flavour isn't marvellous but it's strong and minty and insects adore the flowers so it's worth having just for them.

Anyway, it's got way out of hand in the bed that I popped it into three years (yes, this is the FOURTH year we've been here!) ago and I've decided it's got to be tamed.

I picked eight huge bunches of the stuff today, which are hanging in the loft and with any luck will dry to an aromatic crumble that can be used for tea. The roots will have to be dug out quickly now before they regenerate. I'll plant some in the wilder parts of the garden but I don't think I'll get everything so I'm expecting to have to repeat the exercise sometime in the future. At least the blueberry will get some light to ripen its berries this year, and since Raven has taken to sleeping beneath it the blackbirds will leave some for me.


Sunday 24 May 2009

Babies aloft


The swallows have raised a brood and today the babies made their first foray into the air. They are so beautiful but like toddlers, still a bit uncertain in their movements, if considerably more graceful.

The cats are enthralled but I think even clumsy swallows will be too quick for them. These pictures are some that Paul took last year, he has the patience and the camera skills that I lack.


Thursday 21 May 2009

Earthed up


Just for the record, I did (most) of the earthing up today. Whilst working, I wrote in my head a whole article on the nature and philosophy of potato cultivation and the way it has propagated through the centuries.

You'll have to wait, it was so boring even I fell asleep.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

In no particular direction

There's a little symbol on the French weather website to show the direction of the wind. It's a sort of little arrow chasing its own tail and is supposed to indicate that the wind may come from anywhere but will be so light that it doesn't really matter where.

I feel like that arrow. There is a huge list of tasks, many of them quite enjoyable, nearly all of them useful and productive and I have plenty of time to do them but my nose is constantly turned in just the wrong direction to get started. I'm going to try to make an exam timetable next, something that I can make ticks on when stuff gets done but I wish there was a way of increasing my motivation positively. There seems to be no point in anything.


Garden news; the potatoes are all up and looking good. Earthing up is just one of those little tasks I should be getting to real soon now. The garlic, shallots and onions are doing their thing, the parsnips are coming along well and the jerusalem artichokes are showing green but none of the beans, runners or french, that I planted on the 1st May have come up at all. It's now nearly three weeks and I'm getting a bit worried. It's not too late to start some more but with my luck I'd end up wasting good plants when the first lot suddenly make an appearance.

broad bean red epicure

The broad beans are flowering, lovely things that they are, and I particularly wanted to get a picture of them up here because I've noticed on a few sites (and I think if I recall correctly Roger Phillips Vegetable Book*) that there's an idea that this variety, Red Epicure, has red flowers. It doesn't, as you can see, but the seeds are a beautiful mahogany red and taste very good too.

The pumpkins haven't germinated well, from an expected 9 Whangaparoa Crown plants only three have shown up, only one courgette has germinated and there are no butternuts at all, although the very last two Muscade de Moschata seeds both came up.

The sweetcorn is disappointing too, only 10 or 11 plants from 30 seeds sown.

More successfully I have lots of pickling cucumbers and quinoa, far too many melons and a nice start of basil. The first of the tomatoes have been planted out, Latah just beginning to flower, although I now realise the allotted space for tomatoes is going to be a touch too small so I'm having to reconsider where some of the later seedlings will be taking their final places.

Also planted out today, artichokes, a bit small but they should do and some flowers, aquilegia and marigolds just to brighten the place up if the much predicted hot summer ever gets here.

*I don't have this book to hand but I'm sure I remember this because it irritated me. I also noticed there's a new edition of this on Amazon, but I don't know if it's been updated.

3 on a sofa

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Warts and all

The very interesting Agricultural Biodiversity linked to an article about these people who have somewhat graspingly decided that they should patent all warty pumpkins to be their own, claiming that they invented them.

A lie, clearly. Warted pumpkins have been around for a long long time, the first one that came to my mind was the French Galeux D'Eysines which was in lists by 1883. Another very warty sort is Hungarian, the Óvári hengeres which is shaped like a banana squash. The Americans have the Blue Hubbard amongst others.

There is also the extremely lumpy Italian MARINA di CHIOGGIA, the COURGE du MAROC and the Japanese SHISHIGATANI not to mention the many decorative varieties of gourd that develop knobbles and excrescences. All these are available from Graines Baumaux by the way.

And that's just a few of them.

So, although it's a bit late in the year for getting and starting new plants, if you have a chance, grow a warted one this year, and stop those money grabbers in their evil plans.

Friday 8 May 2009

Kitten Diary #5


There's not an awful lot to say about the little beasts. They are enjoying the freedom of the countryside and having a fairly peaceful time of it.


It's possible that a luxurious fur coat isn't the best choice for the outdoor life but it comes in handy at night as it's still pretty cold here and I haven't been lighting the fire.


Rook has discovered the old dog kennel, a fairly spacious and well appointed abode hidden behind hedging. If he can't be found it's a fair bet he'll be there, hanging out, in his cave, whatever.

Crow is still the anxious cat, needing to be with me when I'm gardening, sleeping in my bed and following me when I go walking. He is the sweetest thing, and charges backwards and forwards like a little puppy dog, sometimes bringing me smelly dead leaves to inspect.

crow walking

Wednesday 6 May 2009

False Starts and Great Expectations

here comes the sun

The sun finally came out again at 4.30 p.m. today. Despite my hopes on the First of May there was not a chance of outdoor fucking in the chill grey limbo of the last five days. It has to be admitted, it was so disappointing I've barely done anything useful at all while waiting for normal service to be resumed. The worst thing is, the weather forecast isn't very good for next week either, and as usual it's much easier to believe a bad prediction than remember how often good predictions fail.

The potatoes, the little darlings, have popped their heads up for a look. As soon as they're all there I'll be giving them a quick earthing up. I'm not sure it does much for yields but it certainly stirs the weeds about and sets them back to ground zero.


I'm rather proud of this picture of apple blossom although it looks like nothing in small so if you're able click through to see it bigger on flickr. It's not all good news in the orchard, now that I've finally finished the walk round I've discovered two more trees down completely and large limbs broken from a couple of others. There were some strong winds over winter, clearly. The fallen trees, which are struggling on, will be the first candidates for the grafting exercise when the root stocks arrive.

bay flower

If the weather stays reasonably cheerful for the next two days I might have a chance to catch up with my schedule for seeds and planting but the cold has done more than keep me indoors by the computer, it's been holding up seed germination as well.

Soon, a kitten diary, if I can pin them down for long enough to get some pictures. They rather enjoy all this open space and have learnt to use it already.

Friday 1 May 2009

Hurray, hurray, it's the 1st of May

I notice from last year's entry that I had lily of the valley in flower by now. I must go out and take a look before it gets dark.

At last the weather has perked up and at least some of the forecasters are predicting a clement next 10 days. It makes such a difference. It's been possible to make a little progress on the vegetables today, beetroot is planted and some beans but more importantly I've been warm!


Isn't that beautiful?

Started the sweetcorn in pots and pricked out some Nicotiana Sylvestris, rather late but hopefully the anticipated warm summer (it's official, even the Met. office have nailed their colours to the mast) will give them a boost and make them give a wonderful show. I don't do a lot of flowers but this year I have a few aquilegia, some rudbeckias and a few french marigolds to dot around. Just as well as it looks like the winter killed all the nasturtium seeds, there's not a sign of one germinating and last year at this time I was pulling them out by handfuls.